Philadelphia Republic Party: This Party Sucks

For half a century, the Republican Party has been a joke in Philadelphia. But now a few upstarts have a radical idea: Let’s try to get Republican candidates elected!

Kelly e-mailed the manifesto to everyone he knew, and he gave a copy to Michael Meehan in person. He figured that Meehan would implement at least a few of his suggestions, especially after Kelly had an encouraging meeting with Senator Arlen Specter. Specter was still a Republican then. Kelly says Specter pointed at him and said, “You’re the message.” Kelly waited and waited for Meehan to act. Then he got sick of waiting, so he started the Loyal Opposition.

THEY CLUSTER AROUND me, welcoming me, vetting me, offering me wine, venting to me:

“Are your editors allowing you to write about Republicans?”

“I’m not a child molester. I’m a conservative.”

“The problem is, we don’t have a message. George Bush killed us.”

“They think we’re zealots. We’re not.”

The evening of my lunch with Kelly, I get to meet the Loyal Oppositionists, Kelly’s comrades in arms. The Loyal Opposition, according to its website, is a Republican “policy” group advancing “the free flow of ideas … through vigorous, loyal and public-spirited opposition to the status quo.” But really it’s just a handful of people who get together every couple of weeks and talk about how to stop losing, and sometimes show up en masse at GOP events like tonight’s. We’re at a Center City steakhouse for a Pat Toomey fund-raiser. Toomey is the small, sour-faced man who, by force of his sway with hard-core conservatives, convinced Arlen Specter to tuck tail to the Democratic Party, and now Toomey will probably be running against him next year for the U.S. Senate. Toomey is more Kelly’s speed, anyway. They’re both insurgents, both bomb-throwers by temperament, and both still learning how to play nice with the establishment in order to more effectively subvert it. Kelly was here for a few minutes, in ratty jeans and an untucked shirt, but after he shook hands with Toomey, he bolted, and now I’m face-to-face with the core of the movement he started.

And it looks different from Kelly in several ways. These folks are all dressed in nice suits and ties and blouses, for one thing. They stuff business cards into my hand. They tell me they’re lawyers, committeemen, ward leaders — i.e., they’re not fighter pilots penning manifestos. They’re cogs in the existing party structure.

But they’re still plenty pissed off. For instance, Al Schmidt is here. Schmidt is a hell of a story. There may be no better story for illustrating just how broken his party is right now. Schmidt is a baby-faced 38, a proud nerd with agate glasses and a navy pinstripe suit and an earnest gaze. He looks like one of the Agents from The Matrix minus about 40 pounds of muscle. From January 2008 to January 2009, he worked as the executive director for the Republican City Committee. He was on the inside. He got to see the party’s dysfunction up close, especially when he began to attempt to recruit candidates for important races.